- Court rules for NFL in suspension of Patriots' quarterback
- Panel says it's not court's role to `second-guess' NFL ruling
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have to start next season on the bench.
A federal appeals court in New York on Monday reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension, finding the National Football League acted within its authority to punish him for using underinflated footballs in a 2015 playoff game.
“Our review of the record yields the firm conclusion that the commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion to resolve an intramural controversy between the league and a player,” U.S. Circuit Judge Barrington Parker wrote in a 2-1 opinion.
The ruling is a rare win for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was stung by a string of decisions overturning or lessening penalties for players. Ray Rice, formerly a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, and Greg Hardy, a defensive end now with Dallas Cowboys, had their suspensions overturned or reduced by arbitrators, and Goodell’s indefinite suspension of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was thrown out by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan added to Goodell’s losses, ruling in a 40-page opinion in September that the league failed to give Brady proper notice of the potential discipline, denied him the chance to question lead investigators and didn’t give him access to files in the case.
The appeals court decision focused on the authority granted to Goodell in the collective bargaining agreement between the players and the NFL.
“The Supreme Court has recently and strongly held that arbitration is a matter of contract, and judges cannot upend those agreements by substituting their own notions as to how to proceed,” said Anthony Sabino, who teaches law at St. John’s University in New York.
Sabino said the Brady decision may have an impact in the financial sphere by weakening the hand of claimants trying to sue in court to get around arbitration agreements with Wall Street firms.
Robert Katzmann, the chief judge on the appeals court, sided with Berman in a dissenting opinion, writing that “the commissioner’s authority, as the majority emphasizes, is broad. But it is not limitless.”
A league investigation found that Brady probably knew team staff deflated game balls below the minimum allowed before the Patriots’ 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in a January 2015 conference championship game. Brady also destroyed a mobile phone, obstructing the league’s investigation, the NFL claimed.
The controversy overshadowed the two-week lead-up to the Super Bowl, which the Patriots won 28-24 over the Seattle Seahawks, and the league’s 2015 preseason. The league suspended Brady in May 2015.
The Patriots’ starter since 2001, Brady, 38, has led the franchise to four Super Bowl titles, winning the championship game’s Most Valuable Player award in three of them. A 10-time Pro Bowl selection, he has also won the NFL’s season-long MVP twice.
“We are pleased the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled today that the Commissioner properly exercised his authority under the collective bargaining agreement to act in cases involving the integrity of the game,” the league said Monday in a statement. “That authority has been recognized by many courts and has been expressly incorporated into every collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA for the past 40 years.”
Brady may try to get the full appeals court to rehear the case or seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Getting the suspension overturned at this stage is a long shot, but additional appeals might further postpone the suspension.
The NFL Players Association said in a statement it is “disappointed” in the decision, which it’s reviewing. “We fought Roger Goodell’s suspension of Tom Brady because we know he did not serve as a fair arbitrator and that players’ rights were violated under our collective bargaining agreement,”the union said.
The case is National Football League Management Council v. National Football League Players Association, 15-2801, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan).